It was a perfect day in Washington for some baseball and Stephen Strasburg and Brandon Beachy gave a sold out crowd at Nationals Park one of the game’s finer treats: a pitchers’ duel. Strasburg’s effective power coupled with devastating off-speed pitches mesmerized the Braves, while Beachy’s crafty breaking pitches kept the Nationals off their game.
Strasburg would go seven full innings of shut-out baseball, scattering four hits and walking none, while striking out nine Braves. His velocity was up, registering between 96 and 99mph throughout the outing, and his command was extraordinary, putting to rest any lingering concerns after his last two starts. Though Strasburg had said he was feeling just fine, the media wasn’t accepting his version of events. After today? That shouldn’t be a problem anymore. After the game, manager Davey Johnson would say “The way he finished off, he blew the guy away, I said, ‘He’s back.’ I don’t think he ever left.”
Beachy, the NL’s ERA leader at 1.77, was impressive through 6 1/3, sitting down six Nationals on strikes, and his 71mph curveball was the undoing pitch for much of the lineup. He was not without flaw, though, as Jesus Flores (1-2, HR, RBI) took a 1-2 breaking pitch about 390 feet into the Braves’ bullpen in the fifth inning. The last batter he faced, Danny Espinosa (0-2, BB, R), would also score in a crazy seventh inning that should have been much worse for the Braves than it was.
Ian Desmond (1-3, 1B) lead off the seventh with a fly to deep center field, followed up by a six-pitch walk to Espinosa. That walk would end Beachy’s day, bringing in Durbin to face Flores. Flores would draw a walk that would end Strasburg’s day at 90 pitches, with a pinch hit opportunity for Roger Bernadina that would lead to another pitching change. Johnny Venters would trot in, and Xavier Nady would stand in for Bernadina. Nady’s season has been fairly troubling, with a .145 average, and a sub .500 OPS. Many a fan in Natstown have hoped for his DFA. With a 2-1 count, a Venters fastball would strike Braves catcher Brian McCann (no relation to former WLDC staffer Erin McCann) on his left kneecap. The ball would skitter away toward the camera well, advancing the runners. The play was called dead at that point as the runners advanced to 2nd and 3rd, and after a delay McCann would leave the field with the trainers.
Nady would take a 2-2 pitch to the wall in right field, and though Heyward didn’t have a complete bead on the ball, he was close enough to spook third base coach Bo Porter and the trailing running. The Nationals would take a second run, but go no further.
Sean Burnett would surrender a pair of hits in the 8th, but held it together, getting Bourn to foul out down the left field line with two aboard. Tyler Clippard came in for a quick ninth inning, facing just 3 Braves and striking out a pair and dominating the Braves with a slider that PitchFX has been calling a cut fastball of late. He picked up his 4th save and the confidence of the skipper, who seems to be favoring the idea of letting Clippard take the 9th as his very own.
Notes: With his ERA dropping to 2.35 on the season, Strasburg moves up to 4th in NL ERA. Beachy maintained the lead, but dropped to 1.87. Gio Gonzalez, who starts Sunday afternoon’s game, is 2nd in NL ERA. Strasburg and Gonzalez trail the Phillies’ Cole Hamels in strikeouts, the former two having 79 and the latter having 80. The crowd of 41,042 today also welcome Pups in the Park, with a Shar Pei winning Fan of the Game on the Jumbotron